For many years now, I have belonged to, and been an active participant in, The Pete Atkin Web Form, a web-based debating group in which the songs written by Pete Atkin and his songwriter partner, Clive James, are not only listened to, but also exhaustively examined and analysed.
Occasionally, members of this forum, like the members of all such forms, are criticised for being, as one observer put it, “very sad people trying to live vicariously through someone else’s’ work” and for carrying out what that very same same observer called “the endless autopsy of the creative act of writing”.
Writers bare their souls for brief and agonising bouts of creativity, and I would guess they want their work to be enjoyed and not dissected after 30 years.
I’d be the last to dismiss such criticism, or the people who make it, out of hand. It has some merit, if only the merit of giving voice to the commonly held view that thinking and examining a pieces of writing, particularly imaginative writing, whether it be poetry, the novel or – in this case – the song, always destroys the spontaneous pleasure we should be taking from reading itself.
If I am to be true to the spirit in which I approach texts as a reader (or, in this case a listener). I should be very alert to the reasons I have for thinking tha simple act of enjoyment – which I take to mean some kind of passive consumption – is not not sufficient . I owe it to myself, to others, and, indeed to the the writer I engaged with, to be fully conscious of why it is that I think a thoughtful, analytical approach to reading increases rather than diminishes pleasure.
When I think about this, and when I’m casting about for reminders of why I ever began reading in the way I do, I frequently re-read Brock University‘s Professor John Lye and his useful Guide Designed for Year 1 Students. This guide, though probably no better or worse than any of the thousands of others of its kind almost every day of every year on campuses across the workd , does have the advantage of being brief and very much to the point.
- The ultimate end of analysis is, first and foremost, a deeper understanding and a fuller appreciation of the literature — you learn to see more, to uncover or create richer, denser, more interesting meanings. I have a brief page on the ideas of depth, complexity and quality as they relate to literature.
- Secondly, as literature uses language, images, the essential processes of meaning-making, analysis can lead to a more astute and powerful use of the tools of meaning on the reader’s part.
- Thirdly, analysis should also teach us to be aware of the cultural delineations of a work, its ideological aspects. Art is not eternal and timeless but is situated historically, socially, intellectually, written and read at particular times, with particular intents, under particular historical conditions, with particular cultural, personal, gender, racial, class and other perspectives. Through art we can see ideology in operation. This can be of particular use in understanding our own culture and time, but has historical applications as well. See my brief page on ideology for an expansion of this.
- A fourth function of analysis is to help us, through close reading and through reflection, understand the way ideas and feelings are talked about in our culture or in other times and cultures — to have a sense both of communities of meaning, and of the different kinds of understanding there can be about matters of importance to human life. Art can give us access to the symbolic worlds of communities: not only to the kinds of ideas they have about life, but also to the way they feel about them, to the ways they imagine them, to the ways they relate them to other aspects of their lives. …..(read on)
There is more to be said on this subject, but I do not have the time to say it now.